Friday, June 08, 2007

Tarzan Triumphs

I got nervous about Tarzan Triumphs when I didn't see Maureen O'Sullivan's name in the opening credits. Apparently she'd quit the series to pursue more serious roles. After the Tarzan folks had casually thrown out Tumbo in the previous movie, I figured that continuity wasn't really their bag and that we'd probably just see Tarzan and Boy hanging out in the jungle as if it had always been just them. Not so though.

We quickly learn that Jane is off in London visiting her sick mother (whom she's never mentioned before, but oh well) and Tarzan and Boy spend some nice time missing her. We get to see Johnny Weissmuller do some more actual acting as he reads a letter from Jane and grieves her absence. Seriously, Weissmuller was a damn fine actor and he gets to show it a few times in this movie.

The plot is the old Weissmuller-Tarzan formula, but turned up to about thirteen on the Awesome Scale. Yeah, it's about "civilized" bad guys coming to the jungle to take something back with them, but in this case it's Nazis coming to carry off the wealth of a hidden jungle city. And there's a drop-dead gorgeous jungle princess to boot who escapes the Nazis and finds Tarzan in order to ask for his help.

There's some definite allegory going on as Tarzan at first refuses to get involved. As long as the Nazis don't bother him, he's not going to bother them. At one point, the Nazis even refer to him as an Isolationist. It's not until the Nazis directly provoke Tarzan by kidnapping Boy (for a good reason that I won't go into) that he's stirred to action. He draws his knife and snarls a line that had to have had 1943 audiences cheering in their theaters: "Now Tarzan make war!" It's a hell of a moment and Weissmuller nails it.

The war is as cool as any Rambo film. Tarzan uses his jungle skill to sneak around guerilla-style and ambush individual Nazis before helping the citizens of the lost city mount a coordinated offense. Even Cheetah picks up a machine gun and gets into the action (though they've toned her antics way down from the last couple of movies; no more hyper-extended sequences of her just cutting up for no reason).

I only have a couple of complaints. One is a cheap shot at Hitler that's so ludicrous it's unbelievable. Not that Hitler doesn't deserve ridicule, but really it's a terrible joke. Okay, I'll tell it to you, if you really want to hear it. If you think you might track down the movie and don't want to know, skip to the next paragraph. SPOILER WARNING: At the end of the movie, Cheetah's playing around with the Nazis' radio and dials in Berlin. When the Nazis on the other end hear Cheetah's screeching, they realize that they're not talking to their men, but think instead that they're talking directly to Hitler himself. It sounds funny when I read it, but after a whole movie that's been played relatively straight, it's just dumb.

My other complaint is about how the jungle princess, Zandra, tries to convince Tarzan to help her. Boy (who wants to help) tells her that Jane's always been able to get Tarzan to change his mind, so he instructs Zandra to dress in Jane's clothing, go on romantic swims with Tarzan, and cook delicious meals for him. I might be reading into the "romantic" part, but I don't think so. Tarzan lies down next to Zandra at one point and holds her hand. It's a little creepy that he and Boy have not so much forgotten about Jane as they have stopped caring about her in order to focus on the new girl. I kept telling myself that jungle people just have a different way of expressing platonic relationships than uptight Western folk do.

All that aside though, a great adventure film. I understand that there are more Nazis in the next one and I can't wait. I'm especially curious to see how the writers explain that Jane's not coming back at all and how Tarzan and Boy react to it.

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